Ladbroke seeks return to casino business

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LADBROKE, the betting and property company, may re-enter the casino business, confident that its tarnished image has been wiped clean, writes Russell Hotten.

Fifteen years after scandals forced the closure of Ladbroke's London casinos, the new chief executive, Peter George, believes the roulette wheel could turn again.

A move into the US casino business is likely, because a liberalisation of gaming laws has opened up the market and casino stocks are racing ahead. But Ladbroke has not ruled out a London presence.

Ladbroke's outlets were closed after it was discovered that punters were spied on, lured into casinos, and offered high-class prostitutes.

Although Cyril Stein, Ladbroke's founder, survived the scandal, his relationship with the City deteriorated and casino profits, forecast to peak at pounds 100m in the 1980s, collapsed. Last week Ladbroke reported 1993 pre-tax profits of pounds 62.1m, against pounds 5.2m, after lower exceptional charges. The dividend was cut for the first time since Ladbroke became a public company in 1967.

Mr Stein retired last year and the new management, which includes the chairman, John Jackson, is taking informal soundings about whether the time is right for a casino comeback.

In Britain Ladbroke will have to convince the Gaming Board, which has granted just 118 casino licences in the UK. Other British operators include Rank Organisation, which has 27 outlets, and Stakis, with 22.

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